Imre Nagy

Summary

Imre Nagy (Kaposvár, 7 June 1896 – Budapest, Kőbánya, 16 June 1958) Hungarian communist politician, economic politician, university professor, full member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.Between 1953 and 1955, and during the 1956 revolution, he was president of the Council of Ministers. For her role in the revolution, she was sentenced to death and executed in a show trial, and secretly buried in plot 301 of the New Public Cemetery in rákoskeresztúr under the name Piroska Borbíró. On 16 June 1989, her reburial, which became a mass movement, became one of the emblematic events of the change of regime in Hungary.

Imre Nagy was born on 7 June 1896 in Kaposvár, in Fő Street. His godparents were János Dakó, a servant of the archbishop, and his wife Mari Nagy and Ilona Schwarcz, all residents of Kaposvár. The midwife who assisted at the birth was Mrs. Rausenberg. The baptism was performed by the Reformed pastor Márton Csertán. The Schwarz grocery and grocery store operated on the street side of the house of his birth on Fő Street, the family lived in a one-room apartment facing the courtyard, later they moved to the Markó house next to the Cigli School. When his father was transferred to Pécs in 1904, they moved first to Kálvária Street and then to Petrezselyem Street 17. In 1905 they moved back to Kaposvár, first to Baross Street, then to Fő Street.

His studies

In Kaposvár, he completed his first year at the school on the main square, then at Anna Street, then at the Baross Street elementary school, and from 1904 at the school in the city centre of Pécs. After the fifth elementary school he started his secondary school studies. He was an average pupil; László Hudra taught him Hungarian and Latin, who was also his class teacher; he attended the theology classes of Pastor Márton Csertán. As a footballer, he played for the Kaposvár Brotherhood in the Bp. Vasas. In September 1907 his parents enrolled him at the Kaposvár State High School. His parents” financial situation later deteriorated, and his father was unable to pay off his bank debts, as he was forced to avoid the post office. To avoid foreclosure, he sold his house and the family moved to the courtyard apartment of the Léner house in Meggyes Street. Imre”s education was expensive and he did not excel in his studies. It was partly his mid-term maths mark in the fifth grade and partly his consideration of how to make a secure living for himself by learning a suitable trade that led him to decide to drop out of high school. His mother, unwilling to agree to this and wanting her son to be a clerk, enrolled him in the fifth form in the autumn, but the warning he received at half-term discouraged him from continuing his studies. Neither his parents nor his teachers encouraged him to continue his studies, and in 1912 he left the Kaposvár Gymnasium of his own accord. His original idea was to enrol in a higher industrial school in Budapest after a year”s training.

He joined the workshops of Scholz and Noficzer as an apprentice scale maker, master builder and master locksmith. Two of his old classmates had been apprentices here for six months. He was attracted to the trade of carpentry and studied with great diligence. In the workshop, which was well-staffed and well-qualified, they worked mainly on scales, grave fences, stair grilles, relief ironwork, and brass and other ornaments. Among other things, he was also involved in the locksmith work at the Kaposvár Lung Sanatorium. In the end he was unable to enrol in a higher industrial school, as his uncle, who lived in Pest and worked as an assistant baker in a MÁV machine factory, was unable to work and his job in the countryside was too much for him. He decided to become a locksmith and lathe operator, and left the locksmith”s trade to become an apprentice at the agricultural machinery factory in Losonc. He was housed with a family of workers called Wenger. The factory mainly produced seed drills, threshing machines and parts. After a year, for family reasons, he went home and continued his apprenticeship in Kaposvár, under the master machinist and lathe operator Géza Friedrich, who had a workshop equipped for machine power in Vár Street. Here they were mainly engaged in the repair of petrol, crude oil and electric engines and steam boilers. Imre Nagy used to train regularly at the KAC, where he practised wrestling (Roman) under the coaching of Rudi Steiner, a member of the Hungarian Olympic wrestling team.

He graduated as a locksmith in 1914, passed his exams on 1 February, completed his master”s thesis and was released. He joined the National Association of Hungarian Iron and Metal Workers. However, his mother was not comfortable with the idea of Imre”s son becoming a worker. She repeatedly persuaded him that it was a waste of the five classes he had completed, that he should continue his studies and that if he did not want to go back to the gymnasium, he should go to a higher trade school. The latter had just been established in Kaposvár, with 3 classes. After his father had supported his mother”s wishes, they persuaded their son to enrol at the upper commercial school in the autumn. At the beginning of the summer he quit his job and joined Dr. Rezső Szücs, a lawyer, as a clerk until the beginning of the school year. It was then that the First World War broke out. His principal, Rezső Szücs, also enlisted as a soldier, leaving Imre alone as a clerk in the law firm.

He was conscripted in December 1914 and called up in May 1915. Although he completed the academic year, he did not take any examinations and was issued without a certificate.

He enlisted in the 44th Joint Infantry Regiment of Kaposvár. During the war, this regiment was transferred to Reichenberg in the Czech Republic, but Imre Nagy did not want to go there, so he requested a transfer to the Kaposvár Home Guards. His request was granted, and he was transferred to the 17th, but not to the Kaposvár battalion, but to the Székesfehérvár battalion. He received fast and forced training. In August 1915, after three months of training, he was assigned to a marching company and was sent to the Italian front with his comrades. For a while he was in army reserve near Adelsberg, and during the exercises they visited the famous stalactite cave. Later the division was transferred to a reserve at the foot of the Nanos plateau. Here they lived in tents in the fields. Soon, the regiment moved to the front as a reserve. His regiment, the 17th Infantry Regiment, fought on the Isonzo front on the Doberdo plateau, near the village of Monfalcone. The regiment”s reserve was stationed at Vallona. They lived in the woods in the valley, in shelters and tents, and at night they marched to the firing line from here. It was here that Imre Nagy learned the horrors of war. During the autumn rains he caught a cold and, as he recalls, was taken to hospital in San Martino with a high fever. He soon recovered, and during a battle in November he was wounded in the leg by a shell fragment. He was taken to the hospital in Lajbach and from there transferred to Ogulin. Here he spent Christmas 1915, and during the holidays his mother visited him for a few days. After his recovery he had to return to the front, but decided to go to the Russian rather than the Italian front. But first he had to return to Székesfehérvár, to the regimental cadre. When he saw that he had been assigned to Laibach, he reported for an interview with the regimental doctor (they conversed in German) and told him that he wanted to continue his studies at the School of General Merchant. The doctor then ordered him to be taken to the cadre, that is, to Székesfehérvár. Imre Nagy packed his bags for the evening and took the earliest train through Zagreb to Székesfehérvár.

On the way, he decided to visit Kaposvár for a few days. After a few days at home, he went to Székesfehérvár, where he was admitted to the convalescent hospital for almost two months, and his leave was cancelled for a week to interrupt his journey. At the same time, he was assigned to clerical work in the office of the war nurse at the county hall. Soon he had to return to his company at the barracks, and he and his comrades were given an extended stay with the cadre. He attended a machine-gunner”s course, and as he was a machinist, he was also taken, and so ended up in Budapest. Here the course was held in Tükör Street in the V. district, and lasted six weeks. They went for training to Nagytétény, Veresegyháza and Üllő. On a day off he lost his money and had to take the train home without a ticket. The conductors in Pest overlooked the ticketless journey because he was a soldier, but at Dombóvár one of the familiar Kaposvár conductors took down a record of the incident and wanted to hand Imre Nagy over to the Kaposvár station command. He jumped off the train at the sugar factory near Kaposvár and spent five days at home instead of one. By the time he returned to Pest, the course had ended, so he went back to Székesfehérvár, sentenced to six days of one-to-one dark confinement with 6 hours of curfew a day. After the interrogation, he began serving his sentence, but the next day, after hearing the story, the officer on duty, who knew him, released him.

They were assigned to an independent machine-gun battalion in Pécs, their quarters were near the Siklós highway, and they often went to the Mecsek side for training. Imre Nagy was promoted to guard leader. He requested to be allowed to return home as a threshing machine operator during the summer work, but this plan was not successful. Before leaving for the front, his mother visited him once to say goodbye to her son. She may have sensed that she would not see him for a long time, as Imre was only home after five years.

On 10 June 1916 the machine-gun battalion left for the Russian front. They set off from Pécs in closed cattle cars and disembarked from the train under Luck. After two days in reserve, they were sent to the fortification front near Czartorijek. The Russian breakthrough caused them to retreat, and in the confusion they lost a great deal of war material, weapons and equipment. During their retreat, Czech, Slovak and Romanian regiments and workers” detachments worked to build a second line of defence. Imre Nagy”s troops took up positions here, with the Russians stationed 200-300 metres away. One night they received orders for an unexpected night attack, to which the Russians responded with dum-dum bullets. As a result, several were killed and their machine guns were destroyed. After the retreat, Imre Nagy was ordered to bring the remaining machine gun back in broad daylight, an operation which was crowned with success, as the Russians did not advance.

He studied Russian and went to church.

Prisoner of war

He was taken prisoner of war in the autumn of 1916, when all he was wearing was a thin summer soldier”s jacket, a pair of worn summer civilian trousers, a cap and boots. From the hospital he stole a carriage cover, in which he placed a tin cocoa can serving as a cup, and his wooden spoon, and so went from Voronezh to the distribution camp at Darnitsy near Kiev. From there, intellectuals who could not be used as labourers in the European part of Russia were sent to Siberia. Thirteen of them were put in a group, accompanied by two Russian soldiers. They walked the few kilometres between the camp and the station in the rain. Their train left the next day, and they spent the night in a room without heating in a detention centre near the station. The next morning their clothes were still not dry, so they set off soaking wet. However, they were able to dry their belongings in the heated car. Their journey took them via Samara, Chelyabinsk, Omsk and Irkutsk to Verkhnyeugyinsk beyond Lake Baikal. They received 15 kopecks a day, with plenty of butter, milk, pastries and tea. On some occasions they even had fried chicken. In Irkutsk they had to change trains, and in the station waiting room they got into conversation with gypsies fleeing to Russia to escape the gendarmerie drive against gypsies launched after the murder of the Danos robbers, who tried to persuade Imre Nagy to run away with them, but he refused to give in. The next evening they arrived in Verkhnyeugyinsk, and from there they were to take a boat across the Selenga River to Troichosavsk. The boat service had been stopped, there were no railways in the area, but they could not make the 250-kilometre journey on foot.

Political career from 1918 to 1945

In March 1918 he became a member of the Red Guard, and in June of the same year he joined the Communist (Social Democratic) Party of the Foreign Workers of Siberia. Some historians have speculated that Imre Nagy was involved in the execution of Russian Tsar Nicholas II, but in the absence of clear evidence, another former Hungarian prisoner of war named Imre Nagy may have been the perpetrator.

In September 1918, after months of fighting, his unit was disbanded and he was captured by the Czechoslovak Legion. He soon escaped and supported himself by casual labour around Lake Baikal. In 1920-1921 he worked as a party worker in Irkutsk.

On 10 May 1920, he joined the Russian Communist (Bolshevik) Party.In May 1921, he participated in a month-long Chekist training, after which he returned to Kaposvár.

From 1922 to 1927 he was a clerk at the Kaposvár branch of the First Hungarian General Insurance Company. From 1922 to 1925 he was an activist of the Social Democratic Party organisation in Kaposvár, and in 1924 he was its secretary.

He joined the MSZDP, where he worked on agricultural issues, and later became the party”s Somogy County Secretary. On 17 May 1925, he was expelled from the party because he had a sharp dispute with Károly Peyer and Ferenc Szeder in April 1924, and he was present as a delegate at the XXII Congress of the MSZDP, where he sharply criticised the national party leadership.

On 28 November 1925 he married Mária Égető, the daughter of a local Social Democratic leader.

In the summer of 1925, the leadership of the illegal KMP approached Imre Nagy. He joined the Hungarian Socialist Workers” Party, which had been formed at the time and was largely under communist influence, where he was primarily involved in agriculture. In 1926-27 he was leader of the Kaposvár branch of the Hungarian Socialist Workers” Party (Vági Party).

From early 1921 to 1927, he spent about 3 years in prison intermittently for political reasons. On 27 February 1927, after the MSZMP was banned, he was arrested again on suspicion of communist conspiracy. After two months he was released. From then on, he wrote numerous studies and articles for the Communist Party press on the situation of Hungarian agriculture and peasantry.

His daughter Erzsébet was born on 13 April 1927.

In March 1928 he emigrated to Vienna, but returned to Hungary illegally on several occasions. In Budapest he illegally led the “village department” of the KMP. From September he edited the newspaper Parasztok Lapja of the Hungarian Socialist Workers” Party, and managed its publication with his colleagues Gy. In this period he also wrote a major study entitled The Development Trends of Hungarian Agriculture.

In February-March 1930, he was present at the Second Congress of the Communist Party of the Communist Party of Ukraine in Aprelevka, near Moscow, as a delegate. At the congress, he was sharply criticised for his right-wing, social-democratic leanings, and Imre Nagy criticised himself for this.

In 1933, he published his booklet The Situation of the Hungarian Peasantry, first in Russian, and a year later in Hungarian. In 1934, he and his family moved into a two-room apartment, where a Russian family was their joint tenant.

In the autumn of 1935 his wife visited Hungary.

Between February 1940 and 1944, he worked in the editorial office of the Hungarian-language broadcast of the All-Union Radio Committee in Moscow (sometimes also known as Radio Kossuth in Moscow).On 7 July 1941, he volunteered for military service and was assigned to the reconnaissance department of the Red Army General Staff. He returned to radio in February 1942. From 16 September 1944, he worked as editor in charge of Hungarian-language broadcasts.

In September 1944, he drew up a plan for the general land reform of the MKP in Hungary, and on 27 October he travelled to Szeged with Ernő Gerő, József Révai and Zoltán Vas, and they started to organise the Communist Party. On 7 November, he became a member of the Central Executive Committee (KV for short) and took part in the Horthy armistice negotiations. On 29 November, a note from the Soviet Foreign Ministry referred to Imre Nagy as a member of the government or “liberation committee” to be formed on Hungarian territory. “Mátyás Rákosi promised the widows and his companions that once they came home from the Soviet Union and came to power, there would be no repeat of the illegalities! – But the first cracks in his resolve were already beginning to appear. For example, the deportation of the Germans… Or what he wrote to Gerő: ”The setting up of a People”s Court is the right thing to do, but not to deport Gy. László Szemenyei, the traitor, should be the first to hang, but the right Arrow Cross man, otherwise the sentence will look like communist revenge…” – Here it is perhaps an excuse that he only intervened in the order of executions. But how did he know what the sentence of Szemenyei – the alleged traitor and provocateur – would be? (Árpád Pünkösti: Rákosi for power 1945-1948, Chapter I, 1992. – OSZK)

As a member of the communist leadership

Between 1 and 5 December 1944, Imre Nagy, Rákosi and Gerő were present in the Kremlin for talks with Dimitrov, Molotov and Stalin, during which the policy and composition of the Hungarian provisional government to be formed in Debrecen were finalized.

On 17 March 1945, he submitted to the Government the draft Ministerial Decree No. 6001945 on land distribution. According to Imre Nagy, its aim was “to make the centuries-old dream of the Hungarian peasantry come true and give them possession of their ancestral possession, the land. The abolition of the feudal system of large estates would ensure the democratic transformation of the country, its future development and prosperity, and the handing over of landed estates to the peasants would open the way to political, social, economic and spiritual uplift for the Hungarian peasantry, which had been oppressed for centuries.” The Council of Ministers unanimously adopted this proposal. The distribution of the land officially began on 29 March 1945 at the Pallavicini estate in Pusztaszere.

On April 23, 1946, he was appointed member of the Secretariat of the MDP in charge of agriculture.

On June 14, 1948 he became a member of the Central Committee of the Hungarian Workers” Party, and on June 15, 1948 he became a member of the PB, but he was not admitted to the Secretariat.

In 1949 he moved with his family from his apartment on Kossuth Square to a villa on Orsó Street in Pasarét, which was under state administration.

On March 5, 1949, during the MDP”s CT meeting, Nagy initiated a debate with Rákosi, in which they discussed the prospects of agricultural policy. At the end of the meeting, he prepared a longer elaboration in which he advocated a longer path of cooperative agriculture, free of violence and discrimination.

He was expelled from the Politburo at the MDP”s CC meeting on 2 September 1949 for his “opportunistic, anti-cooperative views”.

In 1949-1950, he also taught agricultural policy at the University of Agricultural Sciences in parallel with the University of Economics.

On June 1, 1950, he was appointed head of the newly organized Administrative Department of the MDP KV, an organization whose main task was to supervise party work in the armed forces.

On 1 December 1950, he was reinstated as Minister for Food (as the main manager of the compulsory supply) and became a member of the Political Committee.

On March 2, 1951, after the Second Congress of the MDP, the CP re-elected him as a member of the PB and simultaneously as a member of the Secretariat. From 5 January to 14 November 1952, he was Minister for Collections and then Deputy Prime Minister until his election as (first) Prime Minister.

In 1953, after Stalin”s death, Imre Nagy made an impassioned speech praising the Soviet dictator and called on parliament to enact a law in Stalin”s memory. The Soviet leadership wanted to introduce reforms in Hungary. To this end, a Hungarian delegation was sent to Moscow, of which Imre Nagy was a member. At the talks held between 13 and 16 June, the members of the Presidium of the USSR Communist Party”s Central Committee severely criticised the economic policy and excessive industrialisation that had been put in the name of Rákosi, and at the same time ordered corrections. On 13 June Lavrenty Beria called on Mátyás Rákosi to hand over the post of Prime Minister to Imre Nagy.

On his return home, Imre Nagy declared at the meeting of the MDP Central Executive Committee held on 27-28 June 1953 that “the whole party had abandoned the foundations of Marxism-Leninism”, the state had become a “police state” and the government a “shadow government”. In the so-called June resolution adopted at the meeting, the MDP leadership also expressed strong self-criticism. However, the resolution was not made public.

On 4 July 1953 Imre Nagy was appointed Prime Minister. In a speech delivered in Parliament and broadcast on radio, he announced the beginning of a new phase. This government programme broke with the previous economic policy based on forced industrial development, promising to restore the rule of law, rethink agricultural policy and raise living standards, which had fallen sharply in previous years. Other new changes included: easing the burden on the peasantry, the possibility of leaving the cooperatives, partial amnesty, an end to expulsions and internment, and greater tolerance on religious issues. The ÁVH was brought under the control of the Ministry of the Interior and arrears of service were abolished.

On 26 July 1953, a limited amnesty decree came into force, Imre Nagy dissolved the internment camps and lifted the deportations.

At the beginning of December 1953, the Soviet party leadership held further talks with Hungarian party and state leaders and gave instructions to continue the “new phase”.

On 12 January 1954, in a conversation with Soviet Ambassador Yevgeny Kiselyov, he explained that he held Rákosi responsible for the conviction of László Rajk, János Kádár and other communist leaders between 1949 and 1951.

From January to April 1954, the MDP leadership was the scene of ongoing political debates about the continuation of the new phase.

On May 5, 1954, top-level Soviet-Hungarian negotiations began in Moscow. These were critical of both Imre Nagy, who had ”overstated” his criticism of the previous period, and of Mátyás Rákosi, who had opposed the policies of the new phase. The Soviet leadership called for a review of the fabricated trials against the communists, which Imre Nagy began to undertake. It was then that convicted communists, such as János Kádár, were released.

On 24 May 1954, during the III Congress of the MDP, Imre Nagy gave a speech on the tasks of the state administration and the councils. It did not include his ideas, formulated in the spring, either on increasing the political role of the Popular Front or on restoring the limited multi-party system.

On August 25, 1954, the Economic Policy Committee headed by Ernő Gerő submitted a package plan to the MDP PB, which aimed at reducing living standards and increasing the burden on the peasantry. On 1-3 October 1954, at the MDP CP meeting, the proponents of the new phase, led by Imre Nagy, won and the plans of the Economic Policy Committee were rejected.

On October 20, 1954, Imre Nagy wrote about the divisions in the party leadership in an article published in Szabad Nép, and also revealed that the rehabilitated communist leaders were innocent, including János Kádár, who would be released in the summer.

On 1 December 1954, Mátyás Rákosi returned home from his nearly two-month “medical treatment” in Moscow, and at the MDP PB meeting he sharply attacked Imre Nagy and the new section. In the weeks that followed, the members of the board sided with Rákosi.

On January 8, 1955, the Presidium of the USSR Communist Party in Moscow criticized Imre Nagy and the policies of the new phase, demanding that he criticize himself for his right-wing deviation and at the same time change his political course.

On 1 February 1955, he suffered a mild heart attack and was effectively kept under house arrest for a time, thus keeping him out of politics.

On March 9, 1955 Imre Nagy personally informed Antal Apró and István Dobi, the head of state, that he resigned from the post of head of government and from the PB membership, but his resignation letter was not made public. He subsequently suffered another, this time more serious, heart attack.

At its meeting on 14 April 1955, the CC adopted a resolution stating that Imre Nagy”s “anti-Marxist, anti-Leninist, anti-party views form a coherent system” and that in order to achieve them he had “resorted to unorthodox, anti-party and even factional methods”, and for this reason the CC expelled him from the leadership and recalled him from all his posts.

Following the temporary strengthening of Rákosi (and in connection with the weakening of Malenkov in Moscow), the National Assembly dismissed Imre Nagy from his position as head of government on 18 April 1955, and replaced him with András Hegedüs. Nagy was then obliged to resign from his seat in the parliament, his membership of the Popular Front”s executive committee, his membership of the academy and his university chair.

On May 4, 1955, he sent a letter to the party leadership stating that he agreed with the resolutions. He also showed a willingness to engage in “in-depth self-criticism”, which he put off only because of his illness. His letter was rejected by the PB.

In the summer of 1955, instead of exercising self-criticism, he wrote discussion papers defending his policies, which he planned to submit to the party leadership. He was visited by a number of politicians, writers and journalists in his Orsó Street apartment. First Géza Losonczy, then Sándor Haraszti, Miklós Vásárhelyi, Miklós Gimes and György Fazekas. The nucleus of the party opposition began to form.

On 1 August 1955, the PB sent a three-member committee to investigate the “Imre Nagy case”. The former Prime Minister was investigated by the State Security.

From September 1955 Nagy sent a series of petitions and letters to the CP, demanding an end to the attacks against him and defending his previous policy.

On October 18, 1955, 59 party intellectuals, mostly writers, journalists and film-makers, in a memorandum to the MDP CP, expressed their support for the “new phase” and their opposition to the measures of cultural policy (censorship, confiscation of newspapers).

On 3 December, he was expelled from the MDP CEC for “factionalism”, disagreeing with party policy and having views other than Marxism-Leninism.

On the occasion of his 60th birthday, nearly a hundred public figures, writers, journalists, artists and scientists came to his home to welcome him.

In the summer of 1956, encouraged by others, he became active again. The so-called “Imre Nagy Circle” was formed around him. On 13 October 1956 he was readmitted to the party.

He returned home from the Badacsony harvest on the evening of 22 October 1956, and was asked by the students to be present at their general meeting, but he refused.

Imre Nagy had no role in the first (24 October) call-up of Soviet troops. He tacitly acknowledged this, since the decision to do so had been taken by the Soviets anyway. He considered the Soviet intervention a blunder on the part of the Soviet Union. At the time, he believed that a communist anti-stalinist revolution and a counter-revolution were taking place in parallel, and that the intervention had pulled the rug out from under the communist revolutionaries, shifting them to the counter-revolutionary side, thus losing their chance of communist leadership. The demands against the system (i.e. for a bourgeois, multi-party system) were classified as counter-revolutionary and the demands for democratic socialism as revolutionary. In the days that followed, the head of government was essentially cut off from the outside world. Nonetheless, he gradually accepted the demands of the rebels, mainly through the arguments of Ferenc Donáth and Géza Losonczy.

On the morning of 25 October, Ernő Gerő was replaced by the PB, and János Kádár was elected First Secretary of the MDP. Imre Nagy announced in a radio speech that after the restoration of order they would begin negotiations on the withdrawal of Soviet troops.

On 26 October, he discussed the formation of the Nagy government at the PB, and afterwards met with delegates from the Writers” Union and university students. In the afternoon, the PA held discussions on the assessment of the events, at which Losonczy and Donáth proposed a political rather than military solution to the situation. Imre Nagy also met with a delegation from the workers” councils in Borsod.

On the morning of 27 October, the composition of the government was finally decided, with a number of MDP ministers, including former head of state Zoltán Tildy and Béla Kovács. (In the afternoon Imre Nagy met with members of the party opposition, who called for an immediate change of political direction. In the evening, the party leadership (the directorate), which had been formed the day before, decided on a political solution and declared a ceasefire. During the night Imre Nagy and János Kádár held lengthy discussions with Mikoyan and Suslov at the Soviet Embassy.

At dawn on 28 October, Imre Nagy protested against the launch of a concentrated Soviet-Hungarian armed attack on Corvin köz, the largest armed insurgency in Budapest. The political committee approved the ceasefire, thanks to Imre Nagy”s forceful action, and it was announced at 12.15 p.m. and some of the insurgents” demands were accepted. Nagy went to Parliament, where the new four-party coalition government was formed and began sitting. Imre Nagy announced in a radio speech at half past five in the evening that the government would assess the events as a national democratic movement, accept some of the demands of the rebels and withdraw Soviet troops from Budapest. He made clear his support for the revolution and the introduction of a multi-party system, and called for support for the spontaneously formed revolutionary committees. He announced the disbandment of the ÁVH and the abolition of the levy. The changes were also supported by the party”s new first secretary, János Kádár, elected on 25 October. Imre Nagy approved the formation of the Revolutionary Armed Forces Committee, which maintained order with the participation of the National Defence Forces, the police and the insurgents organised into the National Guard.

From 31 October, he was a member of the Provisional Institutional Executive Committee of the MSZMP, the successor to the MDP. He gave a speech in Kossuth Square, announcing that Hungary would start negotiations on the withdrawal of its Warsaw Pact obligations.

A message from Belgrade was waiting for Imre Nagy at the Yugoslav embassy, calling on him to withdraw his last measures and support the counter-government that János Kádár had formed that day to crush the “counter-revolution” with the help of Soviet troops. Imre Nagy rejected the call and sought asylum in Yugoslavia.

After the suppression of the revolution

On 8 November 1956, Yugoslav Interior Minister Aleksandar Rankovic asked Imre Nagy to resign as prime minister in a statement dated 4 November 1956. Imre Nagy began drafting the anti-dated statement, but eventually refused, on the advice of his friends.

On November 21, János Kádár gave a written guarantee to Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Edvard Kardelj that Imre Nagy and his associates would not be prosecuted: “In order to close the case, the Hungarian Government hereby reiterates in writing its repeated verbal statement that it does not intend to retaliate against Imre Nagy and members of his group for their past actions. We take note that the asylum thus granted to the group will be terminated and that they themselves will leave the Yugoslav Embassy and go freely to their own homes.”

On 22 November, Imre Nagy and his companions renounced their right to asylum and, trusting the Hungarian government”s promise of non-harm, left the Yugoslav embassy building. The occupying Soviet troops – in violation of the agreement with the Yugoslavs – immediately detained them and Imre Nagy was taken by bus to the Soviet barracks in Matyásföld (the building belongs to the Faculty of Foreign Trade of the Budapest University of Economics and Business in 2017).

On January 25, 1957, Imre Nagy was visited in Bucharest by Gyula Kállai, who met with him on behalf of the Provisional Central Committee of the MSZMP, but Nagy refused to engage in a self-critical review of his policies. On 29 January, Kállai proposed at a meeting of the Provisional Central Committee of the MSZMP that Imre Nagy and his colleagues be put on trial.

In February 1957, Imre Nagy wrote a letter to the MSZMP Central Committee stating that he still considered himself a member of the party and would support its policies under certain conditions, but would initiate an open debate on the revolution. However, he did not send this letter. He did not continue to write his political notes, but instead began his autobiography.

On 19 March 1957, Imre Nagy sent a letter to the leaders of the Soviet, Romanian, Czechoslovak, Polish and Yugoslav communist parties calling for an investigation into the role of both himself and his supporters in 1956, and urging the establishment of an “international party commission of inquiry”. His letter was not delivered to the Romanians.

On 10 August 1957, the Ministry of the Interior prepared the indictment of the Imre Nagy trial, and on 26 August, in Moscow, Interior Minister Bela Bishku discussed the indictment and the verdicts with Andropov, the head of the department of the USSR Communist Party and other Soviet leaders. On 21 December 1957, in a closed session, the MSZMP Central Committee decided to allow the legal proceedings in the Imre Nagy case to proceed freely. On 5 February 1958 the secret trial began, held in the Main Street courtroom of the military court. The trial of the accused in the Imre Nagy trial took place before the People”s Court of Justice, chaired by Dr. Zoltán Radó. The prosecution was represented by the First Deputy Prosecutor General, Dr. József Szalai. Radó”s conduct of the trial was fair under the circumstances. It was immediately clear to the political leadership that Zoltán Radó could not conduct the trial with the rigour expected: he let everyone speak, he could not prevent the defendants from presenting their arguments and evidence, and Radó could not engage in a meaningful debate with the defendants and take the evidence in the desired direction. The trial was therefore adjourned the next day, citing illness. The trial was only completed four months later, and Ferenc Vida, a much tougher man who had already delivered many death sentences and was convinced of the guilt of the accused, was appointed president of the chamber.

Judge Ferenc Vida, who was appointed to preside over the trial, was convinced, as a staunch communist to the point of blindness, of the “counter-revolutionary” guilt of Imre Nagy and the need for the most severe sentence. Vida was known to the political leadership for his uncontroversial toughness in the trials of the post-1956 reprisals and for his large number of death sentences. In his post-change of regime statements, Vida denied that the MSZMP leaders or János Kádár himself had ordered the death sentences, which is not unrealistic. In practice, the Hungarian political leadership – or, according to Szerov, Kádár personally – knowing Vida, essentially decided to sentence Imre Nagy to death by appointing Vida to preside over the trial.

Closed negotiations took place between 9 June and 15 June 1958. His defender, 74-year-old Imre Bárd, who was now seriously ill, said that his client not only did not want to overthrow the socialist system, but on the contrary, he saved what could be saved, and furthermore, he made all the changes with the knowledge and consent of the party leadership of the time. Ferenc Vida then said indignantly: “I warn the defender that if he does not stop slandering the leaders of our party and our government, he will find himself in the dock.” The trial was over in less than a week and was filmed, only to be declassified in 2008.

On 15 June, the People”s Court of Justice of the Supreme Court (headed by Ferenc Vida) sentenced Imre Nagy to death and total confiscation of property, Ferenc Donáth to 12 years” imprisonment, Miklós Gimes to death, Zoltán Tildy to 6 years” imprisonment, Paul Maléter to death, Sándor Kopácsi to life imprisonment, Ferenc Jánosi to 8 years” imprisonment and Miklós Vásárhelyi to 5 years” imprisonment. The sentence was passed with the prior approval of the MSZMP PB.

Other victims of this trial were József Szilágyi (1917-58) and Géza Losonczy (1917-57). The latter died before the negotiations began.

The next day, 16 June, early in the morning, they came for the prisoners. The courtyard of the Small Prison was designated as the place of execution, and the prisoners were escorted there one by one. Dr. István Bimbó was the judge who was sent to determine their identities and read out the verdict of the People”s Court of the Supreme Court of the Hungarian People”s Republic and the rejection of the petitions for clemency. He then handed them over to the executioner.

At 5:9 a.m., János Bogár, the executioner of the sentence, was the first to hang the rope around the neck of Imre Nagy, who gave his last words of praise to an independent, socialist Hungary. He was followed by Pál Maléter and Miklós Gimes. Once the doctors had established the cause of death, they collected 120 HUF to cover the costs incurred and signed the receipt.

Re-burial, final resting place, final honours

On 5 June 1988, the Commission for Historical Justice, founded by former 1956 prisoners, published an appeal demanding, among other things, the fair burial and rehabilitation of those executed in the Imre Nagy trial.

On 16 June 1988, the 30th anniversary of the execution of Imre Nagy, a symbolic monument to Imre Nagy, Géza Losonczy, Pál Maléter, József Szilágyi, Miklós Gimes and all the executed of the Revolution was unveiled in Paris, in plot 44 of the Père-Lachaise cemetery. In Budapest, commemorations were held in Plot 301 of the New Public Cemetery and in the Belváros. The police violently broke up the commemoration in the city centre.

On 29 March 1989, the exhumation of the unmarked bodies of Imre Nagy, Miklós Gimes, Géza Losonczy, Pál Maléter and József Szilágyi began. The researchers of the graves also found out that the Kádár authorities had given the cemetery register the false information that a woman born in Párkánynánás, “Borbíró Piroska”, was buried. However, this “Borbíró Piroska” was Imre Nagy.

On 16 June 1989, Imre Nagy and his companions were reburied in Budapest in a ceremony attended by hundreds of thousands of people.

On 6 July, the Presidium of the Supreme Court of Justice formally annulled the conviction of Imre Nagy and his associates, on the basis of a legal challenge by the Prosecutor General, and acquitted them of no criminal offence. It was during this hearing that the news of the death of János Kádár, who had previously approved the death sentence, was received.

In 1989, the Imre Nagy Foundation was established under the leadership of Erzsébet Nagy and her husband, János Vészi, a journalist.

In 2008, between 9 and 15 June, the original date of Imre Nagy”s trial, the Open Society Foundation Archive and the 1956 Institute will play the complete audio recording of the trial in the Central Gallery. The digitised material was obtained from the Hungarian National Archives after a minor legal dispute.

Imre Nagy”s house on Orsó Street in Budapest

Sources

  1. Nagy Imre (miniszterelnök)
  2. Imre Nagy
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